Spare the rod, thinner the child?

by Megan Martin

Illustration: Ethan Rilly

Up to now, studies on the impact of different parenting styles have been somewhat limited to topics such as risk behaviours in adolescents. Never before has there been in-depth analysis of the link between parenting styles and obesity in children. That gap in existing literature prompted Lisa Kakinami, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill, to lead her own study examining the relationship between these two factors.

“The link between specific parenting practices and obesity needs to be examined more closely to determine how it impacts children,” Kakinami says. “There’s a lot to be explored regarding how parenting styles relate to children’s health.”

For the purpose of her study, Kakinami examined the four most widely recognized parenting styles, and found consistent associations related to obesity and the authoritarian style, in which parent establish firm rules but don’t engage in conversations with their children about the reasoning behind their set boundaries; and the authoritative style, in which parents have a healthy dialogue with their children regarding rules and boundaries.

Preliminary results of the study, which involved 37,000 Canadian children, found that kids of authoritarian parents between the ages of two and 11 are 30 to 37 per cent more likely to be obese than children of authoritative parents in the same age group.

“There’s more work to be done, but having this data and conducting further studies will hopefully help us understand what’s best for children’s health,” Kakinami says. “It’s an area that certainly merits further exploration, and discussion.”